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February 08, 2008


What Brendan calls "attacks on dissent", I would call normal politics and free speech. Dems are free to criticize Republican policy. And, Republicans are free to criticize their critics.

The phrase "attack on dissent" makes it sound as if freedom of speech were being restricted. In fact, freedom of speech is simply being exercised by both sides.

Talk about red herrings! If I say that "David is a knuckle-dragging moron", I'm certainly within my rights to do so. That doesn't make it in good taste or mean that others shouldn't criticize me for it or mean that they shouldn't take offense or draw negative conclusions about me if, in fact, David is not an knuckle-dragging moron. That is all that is going on here. Romney is using repugnant rhetoric and BN is calling him on it.

ikl, your analogy doesn't quite work. I agree that Romney used harsh rhetoric, but he made no personal criticism of the Dems. He criticized only their policy.

Romney may have overstated his criticism, but IMHO he had a point. Rapid withdrawal of American troops from Iraq isn't identical to surrender, but it's pretty close.

David has it exactly right. What Romney said is legitimate criticism of the policy advocated by Democrats, which is in fact that the appropriate response to insurrectionist and terrorist killings in Iraq is to pack our bags and leave. And by the way, the comment made by Romney is far less personal, far less vituperative, than the comments routinely made by Democrats about Bush and Cheney.

Democrats throw their stones with glee, but when a few come back at them, they are quick to adopt the role of victim: "Why are they questioning our patriotism?" "It's another attack on dissent!"

Well, boo effing hoo.

Rob -

1) Can you give some examples of the 'personal and vituperative comments routinely made by Democrats about Bush and Cheney'?

It would be appropriate to limit yourself to members of Congress or the Democratic Presidential candidates (including those who have dropped out).

Please focus on those that are made 'routinely', as it implies a pattern or repetition.

2) Regarding the statement that the Democrats advocate a policy that amounts to "surrendering to terrorism", your explanation above is that it is because the Democrats want to stop fighting in Iraq. I don't see how being part of a civil war there is the same as fighting terrorism.

I certainly don't think we should leave Iraq in disarray, but when the civil war ends does that mean we will have defeated (or even diminished) terrorism?

The principle is the same whether we are talking about "political" or "personal" criticism: this is not a free speech issue. David's attempt to claim that it was is a red herring.

Romney certainly could phrase his policy differences differently. He decided not to do so. Criticism of his wording is perfectly fair game.

Suppose an anti-Iraq war politician says that Bush is collaborating with Al Qaeda in its quest for a pan-Islamic caliphate (or whatever it is they want) by radicalizing the population of the Middle East with the invasion of Iraq. There would be a serious critique here (AQ thinks the Iraq war is great!), but the phrasing is highly misleading and needlessly inflamatory.

Romney is doing the same thing by claiming that withdrawing from an ethnic civil war = surrender to terror (which isn't even logically possible if you take what he is saying literally). Yes, Romney could have rephrased what he meant into something inoffensive (though perhaps substantively mistaken). But he didn't.

Of course criticism of what Romney said is fair game. But Brendan didn't criticize the statement on policy grounds, he simply characterized the comment as a smear and an "attack on dissent."

Democrats are free to criticize Administration policy, with no objection from Brendan. But if Republicans criticize Democratic policy, it's an "attack," it's a smear, and it's not simply a criticism of policy but an attack on dissent itself.

There's no doubt that the Democrats would like to immunize themselves from criticism by characterizing it as an attack on dissent. Cynical and self-serving as such a ploy may be, it's probably smart politics. What's alarming is when intelligent observers like Brendan fall for it hook, line and sinker and become part of the amen chorus.

As for Howard's questions, he can just do some research himself, and he'd do well to consider not only statements by candidates and congressmembers but also by their surrogates and spouses,">http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,119296,00.html">spouses, as well as by other prominent Democrats. He might start by Googling phrases like "Bush lied people died", the absurd charges that Cheney supported the war in Iraq in order to enrich Halliburton, the charges that the Administration didn't do more to help New Orleans because they hate black people, and all the other nonsense I'm sure Howard has heard many times from his friends on the Left (and perhaps has even said himself).

As to Romney's remark itself, if "surrender to terror" is too inflammatory, can we at least agree on "capitulation to insurrection and terror"? Because withdrawal in the face of insurrection and terror, no matter how well-intentioned, would constitute capitulation.

Oh, and sending suicide bombers into civilian markets isn't civil war, it's terrorism. If some politicians find the cost of fighting such activity too great, then fine, but let's not pretend it's anything other than terrorism.

First, to ikl, I actually agree with David to some degree myself.

That's because I think a candidate can have more latitude regarding charges levied against a political opponent, compared to an elected official (or officials) who may try to hide their blunders or lack of a plan behind a wall of "we are at war, support it or you support the enemy" rhetoric . Our leaders shouldn't be able to deny accountability.

We’ve come to the point where it’s wrong question the interim goals, the progress, or the actual execution of the military strategy. That’s to say nothing of the rational for the war itself.

Coming from our leaders these rebuffs stifle debate and discussion and are unacceptable to me. Coming from journalists and pundits they can have the same effect, but indeed it is part of free speech. I think candidates may fall somewhere in between, if not fully in the second category. So that’s why I think David has a point. In this particular situation I would have said it was more a case of fear mongering and of over-simplification, as opposed to "an attack on dissent".

On the other hand, Rob seemed to take his argument and used it to say that policy makers were justified in adopting the tactics Brendan had labeled “attack on dissent.” I disagree. They should be called on it, only more forcefully.


Regarding civil war vs. fighting terrorism, first Romney is invoking the specter of domestic terror in his "surrender" statement.

Second, a civil war is a civil war because it is between a country's own people. The tactics employed don’t make it not a civil war. Nor the fact that in involves civilians.

Oh, and switching between saying we are fighting a war against terrorists and saying we are fighting against people who conduct war using terrorists tactics is disingenuous. Don't pretend it's not.

Howard may distinguish between a terrorist and one who commits acts of terror, but the dictionary does not.

American Heritage Dictionary:
ter·ror·ist (těr'ər-ĭst)
n. One that engages in acts or an act of terrorism.

And for Howard's consideration:

a·pol·o·gist (ə-pŏl'ə-jĭst)
n. A person who argues in defense or justification of something, such as a doctrine, policy, or institution.

soph·ist (sŏf'ĭst)
n. (a) One skilled in elaborate and devious argumentation.

How is it not "surrendering to terror?" Democrats advocate leaving because Al-Qaida terrorists are setting off IEDs and killing US soldiers and Iraqi civilians, leaving Iraq and it's 12-15% of world oil reserves to whomever is the most violent religious or fascist element there. It is surrendering to terror. Agruably it's prudent (I disagree), but it is surrendering. Where is the smear?


The idea that you go to war against terror makes no sense, in and of itself. By itself that is just propaganda. The idea that you go to war against an ideology makes no sense either - you can go to war against other nations and armies. Even then, if you win, you don't defeat the ideology, only it's seat of power.

The strategy of fighting terrorists with a conventional army puts you at a huge disadvantage. Changing tactics and strategy isn't "surrender".

We broke Iraq as a stable nation, unleashing violence and chaos, and you use that as proof that it's a dangerous or as proof that we have enemies there. The fact that we broke Iraq means to me that we have some responsibility in fixing it, but the Romneys of the world want to take that same campaign on the road and apply that same winning formula in other countries.

It is a wrong-head, counter-productive, expensive, life-taking, and destructive approach to confronting a problem that we have responded to incorrectly. Giving up that path isn't surrender.

And that, dear Howard, is an intelligent and thoughtful response to what Romney said--not one with which I particularly agree, but one that addresses his comment on its merits. That's far different from simply characterizing his remark as a smear and an attack on dissent itself and thus dismissing it without a substantive response. Indeed, since Romney dissented from Democratic policy on the issue, Brendan's statement could be regarded as a smear and an attack on dissent. So good for you, Howard, for showing the right way to debate an issue.

Uh, thanks, I guess. I do have another comment.

The validity of that charge, "attack on dissent" has come up a number of times on this blog. I think we are touching on three things ~

1 charges of oversimplification of the issues (or framing the debate too narrowly)

2 personal attacks (which may be applied to an entire party, or to an individual, because they endorse a certain policy - attacking motives or character)

3 attacks on dissent (which says questioning isn't allowed or that questioning proves dis-loyalty or anti-Americanism of some sort)


What for you is a legitimate charge ("a policy of surrender") is to others (such as myself) a false framing of the debate.

The language of the charge acts as though the issue is straightforward - that invading Iraq was a valid and necessary response to the terrorist acts of 9/11, a first step in our war on terror, and that changing paths is giving up on the war on terror and will leave us vulnerable.

The term "surrender to terror" encompasses that long sentence into three words. It also implies weakness & cowardice (or, at best, a lack of will - as you said a bit above).

So, for me, the slogan "surrender to terror" qualifies as an oversimplification regarding the issue plus it implies that the Democrats lack the resolve to continue, lack the resolve to protect America (maybe not a smear, depends some on how that word surrender resonates with you, but still a personal attack).

Is it also an attack on dissent? I don't think so, really, but it depends on how that term is defined here (by the host).

I think it comes up on the radar for Brendan because narrowing the debate and then shifting the focus to the dissenter is the basic strategy of the "attack on dissent".

The thing is, who is doing it (a person in power or not), and the charges leveled at the dissenter (such as lack of will, vs. rooting for the enemy) also matter.


Here's one for you, Rob, on the smear/not-a-smear question.

Above I said that I thought the war in Iraq was unnecessary, destructive, counter-productive, etc.

Suppose instead I had said that the Republicans endorse "a policy of war-mongering"?

Or suppose a Democratic Party candidate had said that, to put it on the same level as Romney.

How would you respond to that terminology?

I'd say that's also over-simplifying the issue (to some degree) and constitute a charge against the character of the Republican party (implying the willful abuse of power).

But, is it also just a legitimate criticism of the policy advocated by the Republicans and not a smear, as you said above regarding the Romney statement?

Howard, I think your tripartite division of the subject makes sense. To answer your question, let us first note that the words “smear” and “attack,” both used often by Brendan, are themselves loaded terms. Much political argument is an “attack,” it’s just that typically one uses that label only for the arguments that are aimed at one’s own side. And “smear” is also a term that’s been cheapened by overuse and applied too readily to any political argument with which one vehemently disagrees.

I’m okay with hard-hitting, raucous political debate, and that often includes harsh charges and emotive language. So my outrage alarm doesn’t sound nearly as readily as Brendan’s does—nor as selectively. And I’d note that dissent seems alive and well in America, despite all the concern (sometimes feigned, sometimes not) about how it’s been stifled.

I’m also resigned to the fact that in this era of bumper-sticker, soundbite, headline-seeking politics, there’s going to be a lot of oversimplification. And the remedy is, as Brandeis said, more speech—counterargument, debate, substantive analysis by commentators. But let’s hope the commentators call it what it is, oversimplification, not simply “smear” it as an “attack on dissent.”

So if you want to charge the Republicans with being warmongers, I’d argue the point and say it’s not a valid criticism, and I’d press you to explain what your basis is for such a statement, but I wouldn’t try to shut down the subject simply by characterizing your statement as a smear.

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